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Distinguished road racer Tony Adamowicz dies at 75

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Tony Adamowicz (back row, second from left) at a 2010 Trans Am driver reunion at the Petersen Museum. Photo by Jeff Koch.

He was one of the most accomplished American road racers of the last generation, with a career that lasted from the 1960s well into the 1980s. Tony Adamowicz, known affectionately as Tony A2Z, died this week after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 75 years old.

Adamowicz worked as a White House staffer for the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations when he suddenly got the urge to drive racing cars. His talent quickly became obvious – there were very few drivers in the world who could get more out of the unforgiving Porsche 911 than he could, and Adamowicz was rewarded with the Under 2.0-liter portion of the SCCA Trans Am championship in 1968. He also won a championship in Formula 5000 against world-class competition, and in a Ferrari 512, scored podium finishes in 24-hour contests at both Daytona and Le Mans.

Promoting the Formula 5000 series, circa 1973.

You can’t claim the guy didn’t have a self-effacing sense of humor. During the early 1970s, Adamowicz teamed up with racers Oscar Koveleski and Brad Niemcek to form the Polish Racing Drivers of America, a tongue-in-cheek organization of fans that’s still active today, and doesn’t require its members to be either Polish or racing drivers. The three PDRA amigos then shared a Chevrolet van in the 1971 running of the Cannonball outlaw race. The van was loaded with 55-gallon drums of gasoline, so the team could make the New York-to-California run without a fuel stop. In the end, they were beaten only by the winning Ferrari Daytona of Dan Gurney and the late Brock Yates.

Adamowicz, a New York native, remained highly active in the California vintage-racing scene until he became incapacitated by his illness.